An elephant kept in a tiny enclosure for more than three decades will finally be allowed to swap his home at a Pakistani zoo for a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia.
Dubbed the “world’s loneliest elephant”, Kaavan has languished at Marghazar Zoo in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for 35 years.
But it was revealed this week that he will now be relocated to the Cambodia Wildlife Sanctuary, where he will find companionship and better conditions.
Commenting on the move, Dr Amir Khalil, the head of project development at animal rights group Four Paws, said he was hopeful the relocation would prove a success.
"The team is very experienced and conditions for his recovery are very good. He will be able to form a group with other elephants and actually live in a vast area of his natural habitat," the Mail Online quoted Dr Khalil as saying.
"Contact with other elephants will help him establish his position within his new family group and also gain more self-confidence."
Rescuing Kaavan from the Islamabad zoo’s dire conditions had attracted the attention of animal activists around the world – as well as celebrities including US singer Cher, who lobbied for his relocation.
A full medical examination carried out last month by a Four Paws team which included wildlife veterinarians and experts showed the elephant was overweight, even as he showed signs of malnutrition.
His nails were cracked and overgrown apparently from years of living in an improper enclosure with flooring that damaged his feet.
“Following the checks, which confirmed Kaavan is strong enough, steps will now be taken to finalise his relocation to an animal sanctuary,” said Martin Bauer, a spokesman for Four Paws.
His recovery will be a long one, Mr Bauer suggested, adding that Kaavan also suffers from behavioural issues.
The elephant lost his partner in 2012 and has battled since with loneliness as well as his poor living conditions. Both have taken their toll, the Four Paws spokesman said.
“He also developed stereotypical behaviour, which means he shakes his head back and forth for hours. This is mainly because he is simply bored,” said Mr Bauer.
In May, Pakistan’s High Court ordered Marghazar Zoo to be closed because of abysmal conditions, blamed on systemic negligence.
Mr Bauer revealed last month that two lions died during an attempted transfer at the end of July after local animal handlers set a fire in their enclosure to force them into their transport crates.
He said Four Paws was invited by the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to safely transfer the remaining animals in the zoo.